When a name becomes a human story

What’s in a name? A number of answers could be given, most of which would be context specific. “A rose by any other name…” or other such phrases might be deployed. Writing from a legal context, as is my wont, names of pursuers (or plaintiffs) and defenders (or defendants) get bandied about with little reference and perhaps little care about any human story that will unavoidably underlie it, but every so often you hear something about that legal story. When you do, it can be more than a little sad. Sure, hearing about a name is unlikely to be as challenging as a doctor or vet who has to deal with deaths first hand, or even a lawyer dealing with executries (probate) and grieving families, but it is at such times court lawyers or academics may stop and reflect on the name they have mentioned so regularly without (perhaps) a second thought.

My own recent experience of this related to an esoteric agricultural law dispute at Peaston Farm, East Lothian. I have never been there. I have never met the landowner or his erstwhile tenant*. In fact, I will now never meet his erstwhile tenant. This is because Andrew Riddell tragically died after taking in what was to be his last harvest, after which the land he farmed was to be returned to the landowner. He is survived by four children.

I cannot meaningfully add to the reported facts, but this was my moment to stop and consider the very real impact legal disputes have on the people involved in them. No-one should forget that. It is entirely correct that professionals be dispassionate when it is necessary to be, but to be needlessly thoughtless dehumanises the story.

I recall being told about an individual who was involved in something of a locus classicus (i.e. a very important legal case on a certain point) who vented about the difficulty of being a personality in a legal case. (I will offer no more detailed account for obvious reasons.) Now this is where it gets a little tricky. When you have sought to vindicate or protect your rights in a public court, it is by definition a public act. Does this imply some kind of waiver of any right to privacy (on which, see the emerging jurisprudence on Article 8 of the ECHR)? There will of course be some cases where case names will be anonymised to protect children or vulnerable people, but should all cases be reported more sensitively? I suspect that would be too far, but there will be other views out there. Even anonymised case reports can be criticised – if you leaf through a collection of old Scots decisions in Morison’s Dictionary you might stumble across a case about “A Bastard”. These truly are more enlightened days.

So our naming conventions will continue. Perhaps it is in fact a good thing to have at least some semblance of a human element in the case name, to remind us about the stories that have driven parties to court and to consider what might happen to them afterwards. The emotions will of course vary from case to case. A Scots criminal lawyer meeting a Mr Cadder might corroborate that fact. (There is an attempt at a legal double meaning there.)

And now, a confession. The news of this particular tragic death was a little inconvenient for me. How thoughtless of me to say so, you might be thinking, and you would be correct, but allow me to explain. The Court of Session case that was “won” by the landowner was due to be appealed to the Supreme Court in London, which has jurisdiction in relation to civil law appeals from Scotland. I have an article on the Court of Session case appearing in the Scots Law Times very soon. So soon, in fact, it goes to the press on Monday. I quickly and (hopefully) thoughtfully drafted some words to tag on at the end of my article which will catch the print run and might just make anyone who reads my article on a fairly impenetrable aspect of Scots law also consider the human story. Those words follow as a conclusion to this blog.

As this article was being sent to press, reports emerged of the sudden, tragic death of Andrew Riddell. It is not yet clear what the implications of this might be for any appeal to the Supreme Court, although such academic concerns pale into insignificance when compared to the bereavement of the Riddell family.”

* This article is not about the law, but just to clarify some terminology the term “tenant” in this case was actually more appropriately associated with a Limited Partnership, of which the farmer was a general partner and the landowner was limited partner in a “joint venture” of sorts. The Limited Partnership was dissolved by the landowner in accordance with the partnership’s terms, but the farmer sought to use a section of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003 to transfer the tenancy to him. The Court of Session ruled this measure to be contrary to the landowner’s human right to peaceful enjoyment of his possessions, which right is contained in Article 1 , Protocol 1 of the ECHR. Those interested in the law can look at the ECHR implications via the previous link.

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About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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7 Responses to When a name becomes a human story

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